Eschewing the layered keyboards, vocal choruses, and generally "big" production of his normal gig as guitarist with neo-progsters Spock's Beard, Alan Morse's Four O'Clock and Hysteria
comes out of left field. While there are unmistakable hints of progressive rock to be found, it's more fusion than prog, an album where guitar is the dominant voice. Alongside Genesis sideman Daryl Stuermer's Go!
(2007), it looks like InsideOut Music is pursuing its own niche somewhere between rock instrumental, progressive rock, and fusion.
From the opening Fender Rhodes and clavinet of "Cold Fusion," a tune that motors along comfortably with a singable melody and plenty of punch, Morse makes it clear that he's absorbed some of Allan Holdsworth's legato phrasing, but mixes it up with the virtuosic hard rock edge of Steve Vai and whammy bar swoops of Joe Satriani.
"Return to Whatever" is more energetic still, with Spock's Beard bassist Dave Meros and drummer D'Virgilioguesting and demonstrating that it's not just Morse who's got a broader reach as the progressive rock band's discography would suggest. But its violinist Jerry Goodmana founding member of guitar icon John McLaughlin's first Mahavishnu Orchestrawho lights the real fire here, recalling the fusion heyday of the early 1970s with a burning solo that leads to a series of escalating trade-offs with Morse. It's an early highlight to an album that cooks from start to finish.
Goodman also appears on "Major Buzz," a tune that covers a considerable territory in its six minutes, from driving backbeat to more expansive rock instrumental, culminating in another fiery exchange between the violinist and Morse. Brother and ex-Spock's Beard keyboardist/founding member Neal Morse helps his sibling throughout, rarely dominating, but adding texture and sonic depth.
It's not all hard-hitting energy though. "Home" closes the album out in a folksy, almost countrified fashion that recalls guitarist John Jorgensen's work with 1990s guitar triumvirate, The Hellecasters. The greasy funk of "Chroma" is the result of bassist Gary Lunn and drummer Scott Williamson's persistent in-the-pocket simpatico, helped along by Neal Morse's visceral clavinet and organ. Morse delivers a tasteful nylon-string acoustic solo on the obviously Spanish-tinged "Spanish Steppes," further evidence of his stylistic breadth.
Harmonically speaking Four O'Clock and Hysteria is closer to rock instrumental than jazz fusion. Like Stuermer's Go!, Morse's debut as a leader delivers the goods consistently with strong writing and nearly unrelenting guitar pyrotechnics that will appeal equally to fans of fusion and progressive rock.
Personnel: Alan Morse: electric and acoustic guitars; Neal Morse: keyboards, acoustic guitar, mandolin; Scott Williamson: drums; Gary Lunn: bass; Eric Darken: percussion; Nic D'Virgilio: drums (2, 7); Dave Meros: bass (2, 7); Ryo Okumoto: keyboards (8); Jerry Goodman: electric violin (2, 11).